Why Green Party leadership candidate Natalie Ben’s idea could be a ‘game changer’ if she gets elected and implements her Leader’s breakfasts idea…but it’s not without its risks.
The election of Caroline Lucas in Brighton in 2010 provided the Green Party with a much-needed boost – finally breaking through into Westminster after decades of trying. Yet as leader and the only MP in the party, chances are she found the demands on her time to have been unbearable. Being a party leader is a full-time job in itself – as is being a constituency MP – as is in effect being the parliamentary spokesperson for…everything the Green Party does. Although Lucas’ relinquishing of the leadership came as a surprise to some, for those familiar with how the Green Party functions may have been less so.
It remains to be seen what impact a new leader will have for the Green Party – both in terms of the individual who is elected and institutionally, where you have one person inside Westminster and a leader outside of it. It also remains to be seen how a leader who might otherwise not hold elected public office (such as a councillor, MEP etc) interacts with those that do – the Greens have a handful of MEPs and London Assembly Members.
As a Whitehall watcher, candidate Natalie Ben‘s proposal for “Leadership breakfasts” caught my eye. One of the things the Green Party has not been as strong on as it could be is its relationships with NGOs, charities and campaigning organisations, local and national. It’s a potential win-win for both sides. Such organisations can (for want of another word) benefit from the ability of elected representatives to table formal questions to those in executive office (i.e. Government, Mayor of London etc) while at the same time the Green Party can benefit from the policy expertise that they might not have within their existing party ranks.
Bringing in policy expertise
By establishing personal relationships with policy advisers that work within charities and campaigning organisations, the Green Party can harness that expertise without having to ‘buy’ it in through a consultancy. Far easier to send a tweet/text or make a phone call to get a key piece of briefing (that has been fact-checked) through. How often do you hear MPs standing up on the floor of the Commons saying “Figures from [insert name of reputable organisation] say X, Y and Z, therefore…” making it more difficult for opponents to question the robustness of the figures lest they undermine an organisation that they would rather keep ‘onside’.
Risk of alienating existing members
Transparency is a key issue here. One of the inevitable risks with such gatherings is that policy is decided at such small informal meetings then ‘driven through’ existing party structures to get legitimacy. This is one of the major complaints about Labour over the past couple of decades – that policy was decided by cliques rather than in open transparent forums. How will Natalie manage that risk? Will meetings be minuted (and if so, by whom?) On what terms will the meetings take place under? And finally, does this mean that the Greens risk becoming just another political party with the same established contacts that all of the other Westminster parties have?
How will this be reflected locally?
Different areas will have different organisations and campaign groups dotted about. What criteria will be used to decide who can attend? Will these be niche grassroots organisations or the local branches of national organisations? What can local organisations expect in return for their engagement? Some – registered charities in particular might be wary about being seen to be politically partial. How will she ensure that such charities are not compromising regulations that they are bound by? (Especially the smaller ones who might not be as familiar with the law as the larger ones). Finally, at a local level would she see such a role (if elected) as one where she would bring local activists and councillors together with local organisations in the form of a facilitator or that of a director?